Yesterday was a very busy day, so busy that I didn’t open my laptop until midnight and fell asleep on the couch two paragraphs into this blog with Harry Potter on the TV and all the lights on around me. Besides running all over town completing errands (which included getting my eyes dilated for the first time, that was interesting) I was invited to meet a few of the stars from the traveling broadway show, War Horse. If I’m being completely honest, I was not excited about this particular press event. It fell in the middle of other appointments, and War Horse has never much appealed to me. I’m not sure why…I don’t actually know anything about the play, I just heard it was sad and decided not to see it. Also, they use puppets, and it’s very hard to create impressive puppets. I mean Lion King did, but (don’t hate me for this) I didn’t actually love Lion King on Broadway. Today, the star of War Horse, changed my mind completely.
Joey, a horse…or horse puppet actually, is the main character and he was the center of attention at yesterday’s press event. Joey showed off his many skills in the lobby of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. It was surprisingly impressive to watch this life-size hand-made puppet (created by the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa) rear back on his hind legs, trot around the room, swish his tail and even wiggle his ears. It is one of those experience where the people controlling the enormous puppet seem to disappear and the horse appears to be more horse than puppet.
The coolest part was when they ushered us all outside so that Joey could come out and meet the local police horses! OMG it was soooo stinkin’ adorable to see this puppet interact with real horses. The puppeteers are incredible at making actual horse noises and they were able to move and sound like a horse enough that the real horses welcomed Joey like a new friend. I know just hearing the word “puppet” often brings a cheesy play to mind, but I promise these are not your typical puppets.
After all the adorable horse nuzzling we got to talk to the people inside the horse. A whole group of us got to chat with these talented (and very strong) actors about their not-so-typical acting gig. First off, the cast is hilarious and charming. They came out ready to talk and gave us an entire reviews worth of info before anyone even asked the first question. They seemed like a group off BFF’s traveling the country together. I guess when you work under a puppet connected with two other people for months at a time your bound to form some close relationships. They even compared their co-workers to partners in a ballroom dance, it’s a lot of learning to work and move with one another.
Clearly, learning to control a puppet that weighs well over a hundred pounds well enough that the audience believes they are watching a real horse takes some practice. The puppeteers play off of the people interacting with Joey during the show, so if an actor moves one way one night and a different the next, the “horse” will actually respond accordingly. This means there’s a lot more impromptu movement than you’d expect. These people are basically one-with-the-horse. Horses actually…there are quite a few horses that appear on stage, and did I mention that people ride them??? Because they do, people ride these puppets, meaning the actors under the horse are carrying not only the puppet, but another actor. Can you imagine preparing for this type of role???
I wanted to know exactly how they did this…Did they sleep in a barn for a month? Live with a real horse? Read Black Beauty? Watch lots of Westerns? Not exactly, but they did watch lots of YouTube videos, visit horses in just about every city they visit and of course they hit the gym virtually everyday. It actually took two weeks of training for them to just move the horse across the stage in a trot together. They even spent time in a dark room, shutting out the sight of each other, and pretending to be and sound like lots of different animals. I would have loved to have been a fly on that wall.
I truly felt so excited about this show after meeting the cast and seeing the crazy horse puppet. I don’t typically enjoy sad or serious shows, but I always enjoy watching true talent, and I knew that’s what I was going to get after learning how well-trained the actors are, how much work was put into making this story realistic and seeing the passion and heart behind the show. I’ll get the review of the show up ASAP, and if it isn’t already obvious, it gets a pretty good review!